Keeping trust healthy critical in Covid fight

Police check reasons for travel to and from Auckland at a checkpoint north of Auckland recently....
Police check reasons for travel to and from Auckland at a checkpoint north of Auckland recently. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
To trust is to assume that we are on the same team. But are we? asks Chris Skellett.

A community is bound by the trust that exists between its members. It is the glue that binds us. We either trust one another or we don’t. To trust is to assume that we are on the same team, that we share common aspirations, and that we will be there for each other. A community based on trust is a wonderful thing to experience. High performing teams, successful businesses, and healthy families are all based on assumptions of mutual trust.

But when trust goes missing, we find ourselves in a very different place. We doubt each other, we become suspicious, and we fragment. We notice instances of betrayal and focus on the more selfish of human traits. By assuming that we cannot trust each other, we create a much darker world for ourselves.

In New Zealand, we stand on a precipice of indecision about whether we can continue to trust each other to fight Covid as a team of 5million or not. Even our prime minister, who to date has radiated a trusting aura of leadership, is starting to question whether we can continue to trust each other to keep to the rules. A more punitive framework of measures designed to encourage compliance is just around the corner.

To trust naively is exactly that ... it is naive. But to encourage trust, to extend invitations to trust, and to spell out the benefits of living in a high trust society, is clearly important.

Criminals universally live lives based on mistrust. They steal, they cheat and they tell lies. They cannot be trusted and they live diminished lives. But learning to rebuild a life based on the assumption of trust between people is to discover the basis for a truly fulfilling life. To punish indiscretions simply drives them underground.

Conversely, encouraging a commitment to a common goal, of beating Covid, requires us all to sign up to a compact of trust as a team. To work tirelessly to promote trust as a core value that binds us all.

In New Zealand we are blessed with a far more benign leadership style. We do embrace kindness as a core value, if somewhat over referenced, and we also broadly assume trust in our government, our media outlets, and our border security. However, recent breaches of our trust by a few have sorely tested our resolve. But it would be a tragic mistake to stop trusting, to stop hoping, and to stop believing that we can fight this thing together.

When individuals break the rules they are breaking the trust of us all, as has been so clearly seen in the past few days. But mostly, the betrayal affects those who are closest to them. Our family bubbles are essentially bubbles of trust. The integrity of the bubble is held only by the degree of trust between members of the bubble. If you mother goes out for a walk with a friend, she is betraying the trust of her children to keep them safe. If a teenager sneaks out at night, they are betraying the trust of their family.

We have to keep reinforcing the value of trust in society, even (and especially) in the face of these challenges. The stakes are increasingly high. Economic ruin for many business owners, unemployment for their staff, and a massive strain on our health system is just a step away. For some, it will also mean an early death.

Punishing sneaky behaviour doesn’t work. It simply drives the offender underground. Ask any prison officer or schoolteacher. It sets the scene for a low trust culture where managers don’t know what’s really going on, and a massive underground sub-culture of social disobedience emerges. If the Government assumes mistrust in its people, then quickly we start to assume mistrust in return. Trust is reciprocal in nature.

So far, we have been exemplary as a nation in terms of hanging together in the fight against Covid. Now is not the time to stop trusting that we can beat this together as a nation.

The current tensions have arisen as complacency and Covid fatigue have started to undermine personal vigilance and social responsibility in us all. The situation now requires us to re-double our efforts to extend invitations to trust more in each other, not less, and to celebrate the central role of trust in our national identity.

Ideally, we should be trusting ourselves to stay safe, trusting others to act responsibly, and trusting the Government to put good border controls, economic safety nets and health systems in place.

This is the gold standard for a healthy nation, and this should continue to be the central aspiration for us all.

Chris Skellett is a retired clinical psychologist and author of When Trust Goes Missing — A Clinical Guide.

Comments

A thoughtful and interesting piece. While I endorse the overall thrust of Mr Skellett's arguments and his conclusions, the simple fact remains that statistically there will be about 20% of the population who will deliberately try to undermine the trust that the Govt is trying to build, who don't see themselves as part of the team.
That 20% is made up of political opponents, those who find fault with everything the Govt does for no other reason than it's not their people doing it; then there's the "my freedom" brigade who see attempts to provide a safe environment for all as an attack on individual liberty; then there's the conspiracy people, the anti-vaccers, the flat earthers, and all those others who adhere to the cult of the month club; and then your plain old garden variety nutters.
The one thing all these people have in common is that they are squeaky wheels and they make lots of noise. They know how to get media attention and milk it.
With this diverse group hammering away, maintaining trust and unity becomes a challenge.

I trust my neighbours. I do not trust the government.

This article nicely massages compliance with all government edicts into "trust".

The author is basically saying we should be good little subjects and obey everything the government tells us to do, no matter how idiotic.

Trust our betters. Be good little serfs. Wear your masks and don't complain.

And, while you're at it, dob in your neighbourhood rule-breaker!

Well done, author. But I'm not fooled by such propaganda.

Nobody else with an ounce of common sense should be fooled either!

 

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